Abstract The main goal of phytoremediation is to improve ecosystem functioning. Soil biochemical properties are considered as effective indicators of soil quality and are sensitive to various environmental stresses, including heavy metal contamination. The biochemical response in a soil contaminated with cadmium was tested after several treatments aimed to reduce heavy metal availability including liming, biochar addition and phytoextraction using Amaranthus tricolor L. Two biochars were added to the soil: eucalyptus pyrolysed at 600°C (EB) and poultry litter at 400°C (PLB). Two liming treatments were chosen with the aim of bringing soil pH to the same values as in the treatments EB and PLB. The properties studied included soil microbial biomass C, soil respiration and the activities of invertase, β-glucosidase, β-glucosaminidase, urease and phosphomonoesterase. Both phytoremediation and biochar addition improved soil biochemical properties, although results were enzyme specific. For biochar addition these changes were partly, but not exclusively, mediated by alterations in soil pH. A careful choice of biochar must be undertaken to optimize the remediation process from the point of view of metal phytoextraction and soil biological activity.